THE history of Indian Hindi cinema, aka Bollywood and formerly referred to as Bombay cinema, is a mixed bag. The film industry has produced several legendary lyricists, actors, script writers, musicians, directors, and producers. Sadly, the Hindi-language film industry based in Bombay (now Mumbai) has also produced bigots, clowns, opportunistic wannabes and ideologically bankrupt bhakts of those wielding influence and power with the aim to join politics.
On the one hand, you have a legendary actor of Naseeruddin Shah’s calibre. And, on the other hand, you also have an actor like Kangana Ranaut.
Like a conflict entrepreneur, Ranaut aims to milk someone else’s tragedy for her personal ambition. Without going into the details of the latest controversy involving her, which eventually resulted in the demolition of a portion of the actor’s allegedly “illegally” constructed office in Bombay; it is important to take note of her language and terminology in her vitriolic tweets and vicious commentaries.
The actor is trying to play victim. Her main line of argument is the narrative of victimhood. But is she really a victim in the latest case? Or, is she trying to milk the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandit community to her advantage and for her own career benefit?
Soon after a portion of her office structure was bulldozed, Kangana recorded a video message, perhaps in a fit of anger. She accused the Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray of demolishing her office building in collaboration with the “film mafia”. “Today, my house is broken. Tomorrow, your ego will be crushed,” she said in an emotional tone.
But then she said something outrageous.
“Now I realise what Kashmiri Pandits might have endured. Today I have realised. I want to make a pledge to my fellow countrymen that not only will I make a film on Ayodhya (a site in Uttar Pradesh where a centuries-old historical Babri mosque was demolished by the Right-Wing mobs in the early 1990s), but also on Kashmir (Kashmiri Pandits) to spread awareness (about their plight).”
This clever and cunning parallel that she has drawn between a tragedy of a community and partial demolition of a portion of her office is fundamentally erroneous. It also belittles the tragedy that many dispossessed families of the Pandit community have witnessed, especially those who lost home and hearth after the unfortunate flight of several families of the population in January, 1990.
As a headline hunter Kangana’s objective was achieved. She succeeded in cementing the binaries and divisions on communal lines. That is when it became obvious that the actor was indulging in divisive politics. She may be a brilliant film actor, but she also demonstrated that there is a potential politician in her who was ready to pounce on any given opportunity in a charged atmosphere.
In one of his brilliant essays titled Politics and the English Language, George Orwell concluded that, “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Sadly, Kangana accomplished success in highlighting the many fissures and fault-lines within the Pandit community as well. Predictably, the rabid representatives of the community such as Ashoke Pandit have come forward to lend their support to the actor. Ashoke is the same producer who some years ago during the crisis at an engineering college based in Hazratbal described J&K Police personnel as, “terrorists in uniform” and working on the,“payrolls of the Pakistani spy agency, ISI.”
That said, Kangana received sharp criticism from one of the many Pandit representatives like Rahul Pandita. Rahul in a series of tweets requested Kangana to, “…stop taking our name in vain. We refuse to be pawns in your battles of puny egos. Do not belittle our tragedy…”
Author Khalid Bashir Ahmad in Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative talks about how the late Sheikh Abdullah, former Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, described Kashmiri Pandits as ‘The Fifth Columnists’ and ‘Instruments of Tyranny’. Khalid quickly adds that “The sweeping portrayal of a community by a person accused of having handed over Kashmir to India on a platter to answer the wishes of this miniscule minority looks incredible.”
In Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, India’s former spymaster and former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) Amarjit Singh Dulat writes that, “most of our offices on the ground (in Kashmir) were Kashmiri Pandits, who lived among the ordinary Kashmiri folk, and they made for easy targets.” It is imperative to mention that when the R&AW was formed on September 21, 1968, the late Rameshwar Nath Kao, a Kashmiri Pandit, became its first chief during Indira Gandhi’s stint as India’s Prime Minister.
Though the community formed merely four per cent of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir’s population, it wielded influence and enjoyed proximity with the power corridors throughout history. According to Khalid’s account, “The Kashmiri Brahmins became the eyes and ears of the Mughal imperialism in Kashmir. While we hardly find any Kashmiri Muslim notable mentioned in the Mughal history of Kashmir, there are references to many a Kashmiri Brahman such as Tota Ram, Miru Pandit, Bulaqi Pandit, Makund Pandit, Pandit Mahadeo, Mahesh Shankar Das and Mukund Ram Khar serving the Mughals at positions of influence.”
Pandits had quickly learned Persian, the official language of the restive region at the time, and it helped them a great deal during the Mughal rule. And during the Dogra rule over Kashmir they quickly learned Urdu when it was made the official state language, replacing Persian, in 1889 by the third ruler of the Dogra dynasty, Maharaja Pratap Singh.
Even in the cabinet of Indira Gandhi, her most important and trusted men were a group of Kashmiri Pandits. According to Indira’s biographer Katherine Frank, “the epicentre of what came to be called Indira’s ‘Kashmir mafia’ was not a cabinet minister or any other elected office-bearer, but rather a senior civil servant, the head of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, the author of her ‘stray thoughts’ on economics and her main policy formulator.” This person was Parmeshwar Narain Haksar. D.P. Dhar and R.N. Kao were Indira’s other two close confidants from the KP community. They were also instrumental in the fall of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971.
Obviously, it is unproductive to expect Kangana to know the history of KPs or the vibrant cultural confluence between KPs and Kashmiri Muslims in J&K. What she also may not know is the fact that several interfaith marriages have taken place in Kashmir: The Parmeshwari-Ghulam Rasool matrimony and other marital tie-ups between KMs and KPs. The actor wouldn’t know about the London-based Kashmiri academic Nitasha Kaul, anthropologist Mona Bhan, filmmaker Sanjay Kak, academic and poet Suvir Kaul, doctor U Kaul, academic Nitasha Trisal and many other KPs who would abhor the idea of Kangana representing them or their aspirations in any way. Kangana wouldn’t know that in the Bijbehara civilian massacre in south Kashmir in the early 1990s, one of those slain was a member of the KP community. He was a minor.
Unfortunately, the Kashmiri Pandits bearing allegiance with Right-Wing groups like Panun Kashmir and Roots in Kashmir claim that their community faced an ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’. In March 2010, the Jammu and Kashmir government said on the floor of the Legislative Assembly that “219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed” in J&K. Human rights bodies put the number of those killed in J&K since 1989 at close to 100,000, majority of the slain belong to the majority Muslim community. A total of 38,119 Kashmiri Pandit families were registered with the government, of which 24,202 migrated in January 1990. According to official figures, the total number of Pandits stood at 1.5 lakh at the time of migration.
There are several representatives of various migrant and displaced communities who accuse the Kashmiri Pandit community of “exaggerating their tragedy” by drawing flawed comparisons with undeniable humanitarian tragedies of colossal nature like Holocaust (extermination of Jews) in Adolf Hitler’s Germany or ethnic cleansing and genocide of Muslim community in Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, that is not the point. Pain cannot be quantified. This is not the US versus THEM debate. Actors like Kangana and narrative pushers like Ashoke Pandit play to the gallery with the aim to sow seeds of discord and milk situations to their advantage. It is time to stop them from spreading hate.
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